Staples is launching a new networking hub and an expanded retail presence following the success of a pilot program for its Staples Connect smart-home platform. Connect debuted in 32 Staples retail stores in January of this year, complete with a Linksys-made Connect Hub, an app, and an assortment of supported devices from various hardware partners.
The office-supply retailer announced today that now 500 stores, roughly a third of its physical locations in the US, will carry the Connect kiosk, as well as a new $80 D-Link-made hub that adds Zigbee and low-power Bluetooth to its roster of supported wireless-networking protocols.
In addition, Staples announced new partners for its Connect products. The new D-Link edition of its Connect Hub will now support wearable devices, including the Jawbone UP24 connected wristband. In the fall of this year, Staples will also launch an interactive menu on select Samsung smart TVs, letting users control their smart home devices using a standard TV remote. Staples is also adding a Windows 8 app for its hub, which, along with apps for iPhone, iPad, Android and the Web, gives Connect the broadest range of native device support.
Staples is announcing this expansion in a busy time for smart-home platforms. Apple announced its HomeKit framework to integrate device support into iOS. Google-owned Nest recently launched its own set of third-party device integrations, and others players including Microsoft, SmartThings, and crowdfunded product-development firm Quirky have come to market with their own platform strategies. Add to that competition Staples' recent wave of store closings in the US, and the idea of buying into a Staples-made home-automation kit may not seem like the obvious first choice.
On the other hand, Staples remains a go-to provider for many small businesses. Microsoft's partnership with Insteon, another home-automation hub maker, also has small-business customers in mind, but throw in Staples' in-person installation service, and they may just have an advantage for that potentially lucrative customer base.
The original Staples Connect hub from Linksys will remain available for purchase, down to $50 from its $100 launch price tag. When I suggested that they were practically giving it away, a Staples spokesperson affirmed that a razor/blade model is their ultimate goal. SmartThings has said the same thing.
The ultimate question for Staples is likely how many platforms the smart-home market can support. If device makers line up behind Apple and Google/Nest, the Connect Hub might look like an also-ran. It's probably too early to call, and according to the company, it took only six months for its platform strategy to prove itself worthy of expanding. Still, given the speed at which the smart home is evolving, I'd give it another six months before investing too heavily in this platform or any other.